Progressives urge Biden to push harder for Ukraine peace talks

Thirty progressive House lawmakers wrote a letter to President Biden on Monday urging him to consider directly engaging with Russia and to become more assertive in negotiating a cease-fire in Ukraine.

Led by Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the Democrats asked Biden to advocate harder for peace, noting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threats of nuclear warfare and the billions of taxpayer dollars spent on the conflict.

“Given the destruction created by this war for Ukraine and the world, as well as the risk of catastrophic escalation, we also believe it is in the interests of Ukraine, the United States and the world to avoid a prolonged conflict,” the lawmakers wrote.

“For this reason, we urge you to pair the military and economic support the United States has provided to Ukraine with a proactive diplomatic push, redoubling efforts to seek a realistic framework for a ceasefire,” the letter continued.

The signatories included progressives in the House Democratic Caucus such as Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Cori Bush (Mo.), Jamaal Bowman (N.Y.) and Mark Pocan (Wis.).

All 30 signatories have voted for more than $50 billion in various forms of assistance to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion and in the letter expressed no regrets for doing so, tying the aid to Ukrainian military successes.

But the letter, which is supported by a coalition of progressive and anti-war advocacy groups, urged a more aggressive U.S. role in ending the conflict after Russia moved to annex four Ukrainian regions and began to take aim at the country’s energy infrastructure.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Monday that she had not seen the letter, but she reiterated that Biden has vowed a principle of “nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine,” meaning he will not pressure the Ukrainian government to make any concessions to Russia in a potential settlement.

The lawmakers indicated they agree with that premise while arguing a U.S.-negotiated agreement should still be on the table, suggesting it would presumably include incentives to end the fighting, sanctions relief and security guarantees for Ukraine.

“We are under no illusions regarding the difficulties involved in engaging Russia given its outrageous and illegal invasion of Ukraine and its decision to make additional illegal annexations of Ukrainian territory,” they wrote. “However, if there is a way to end the war while preserving a free and independent Ukraine, it is America’s responsibility to pursue every diplomatic avenue to support such a solution that is acceptable to the people of Ukraine.”

Outside advocates have taken particular aim at Biden saying earlier this month that he has “no intention” of meeting with Putin at next month’s Group of 20 (G-20) summit, which will take place in Bali, Indonesia, saying he should sit down with the Russian leader face to face. 

Although he poured cold water on the idea of such an encounter, Biden did leave the door open to a meeting, however.

“For example, if he came to me at the G-20 and said, ‘I want to talk about the release of Griner,’ I’d meet with him. I mean, it would depend,” Biden said, referencing WNBA star Brittney Griner, who has been imprisoned in Russia since February.

While the Democrats noted Ukraine’s recent military successes, the letter illustrated growing pressure from lawmakers in both parties to see results after approving tens of billions of dollars in funding to boost Ukraine amid its defensive efforts.

The letter did not, however, garner the support of the entire progressive caucus.

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), one member of the caucus, distanced himself from the effort, tweeting , “The way to end a war? Win it quickly. How is it won quickly? By giving Ukraine the weapons to defeat Russia.”

Meanwhile, House Republicans have signaled a desire to curb funding if they retake the majority in the November election, and Biden has acknowledged he’s concerned about the fate of Ukraine aid if that happens.

Updated at 4:24 p.m.

Tags Joe Biden Karine Jean-Pierre Pramila Jayapal Pramila Jayapal President Joe Biden Progressives russia Russia-Ukraine war ukraine

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